Game On
Author:Wylie Snow

chapter 39


“OH!” CLARA SMACKED THE BOTTOM of the toaster slide, but the blackened bread was too thick and jammed in the slots. “Oh, hell!” The smoke was billowing out, so she grabbed the electrical cord and tugged it from the wall. “I…I wasn’t paying attention,” she said without turning around to face Luc. She took a tea towel and fanned the air, cursing her dull breadknife, the stupid toaster, her pathetic bad luck.

He came up behind her. She could feel him there; the threatening warmth, the accusing eyes. Her heart pounded so hard, she felt lightheaded. She didn’t bother resisting when he took her by the shoulder and turned her around. She stared at his chest, his arms, over his shoulder, anywhere but his eyes because she knew what she would see there. Still, she denied.

“Pee-ew,” she said, though her throat felt so horribly constricted, it hurt to speak. “That’s really nasty.” Before the words were out, her eyes filled with tears. She tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t release her.

“You played me.”

Each of his words stabbed her, hacked at her insides with more damage than the bread knife.

He released her, pushed his hands through his hair and backed away. “You fucking played me.”

She made the mistake of looking into his face. Clara gripped the counter to keep from doubling over. No, no, no! Not played… sacrificed! For the greater good…for his greater good. She thought by making him think the accident cured her, he’d be okay with going back, back where he belonged, to his hockey arena. But she’d done it again…fucked everything up. The selfish little girl had done irrevocable damage, and she was dying from it.

Luc backed away, shaking his head. “Why?” he said, his voice pained. “You didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth. Again.”

“I’m…” Sorry. She couldn’t say it, couldn’t un-hate herself enough to do the right thing and admit her grave error in judgment.

Dignity. It’s all she had left. Clara used the tea towel to blot her eyes and bit her quivering lip. “I should open a window, or I have some spray that’ll get rid of this smell.”

Luc retreated, stepping backward, never taking her eyes off her. He was leaving, walking out on her as she’d done to him. It was better this way. But the look on his face would be burned into her conscience forever. Disbelief, disappointment, hurt.

She couldn’t stop the tears this time. They spilled over, blurring him away. “Luc, please—” She clapped her hands over her mouth just as the first sob tore out of her, just as her knees gave out.

And he was there, pulling her up, pulling her into his arms. Luc. Her Luc.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she cried into his collar. Her fingers fisted into tight little balls and she beat them against him, but he didn’t let her go. Her chest burned from the great gasps of air she gulped to maintain her freakishly high level of hysteria.

She’d shed a few regretful tears since leaving Miami but, for the most part, she’d smothered them and the barrage of melancholic thoughts that haunted her. She played loud music during the day, ignored Lydia’s phone messages—it was much easier to text “I’m fine, how are you”—and kept herself physically busy, cleaning every surface in sight, from the attic to her backyard shed. The house hadn’t been that tidy since Aunt Jude was alive, and even then, she doubted it was ever as uncluttered as its current state.

With the exception of the suitcase in the front hall.

She couldn’t bear to unpack from her American adventure lest she see something that reminded her of him.

Who was she kidding? The very suitcase in the hall was a reminder itself, and her heart stopped every time her eyes stumbled upon it.

While she blubbered like the silly cow she was, he hadn’t said a word, hadn’t cooed words of comfort or rubbed her back. Nothing. How could she ever make this right again? How could she fix them?

He stood stoically as she drenched the front of his shirt. It wasn’t like the last time when she cried in his arms, when he told her everything would be okay. She was desperate to hear his voice—needed him to yell, to tell her she had no business screwing with his feelings—anything so the image of him in slack-jawed disbelief, the moment he realized she’d lied to him, again, could be erased from her mind. Guilt pushed more anguished tears out, robbed her of every shred of dignity she possessed.

“I-I-I didn’t m-m-mean—” she hiccoughed. She couldn’t even calm down enough to explain.

“You lied to me.”

“I-I-I’m sorry. I thought…” but she couldn’t continue. Every word hurt so badly, seared her lungs, her windpipe, her tongue. She’d lost another Biscuit. And this one didn’t die. She killed him.

And still he held her, let her use him like a giant hanky.

Finally, finally, he said, “Shhh, mon amour. I know why you did it.”

Her breath hitched.

He pushed her hair from over her ear and whispered, “Because you love me.”

Because I love you.



“Y-y-yes,” she wailed, nodding into his neck. She released the grip on his shirt and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I d-do love you…I r-really d-do.”

The second it was out, her entire body relaxed. She was able to fill her lungs with air again. There were no more lies left, nothing left to fester inside of her. He held her, her Luc, until her shoulders stopped shaking, until her pulse returned to almost normal and she could breathe without hiccoughing, until everything in the world felt right and whole and worth living for again. Until the smoke dissipated.

Luc leaned away from her and tilted her chin up so he could see her face. Her swollen-eyed, blotchy, cry-soaked face. And she let him. It was all out; he might as well see her at her absolute worst.

He pushed away the strands of hair that had plastered to her wet cheeks. “So now that we’ve established that you love me, perhaps almost as much as I adore you, and you promise you’ll never ever keep something inside you like this, even if you think it’s for the best—”

“I-I promise. I promise!”

“Then you’ll have no problem coming back home with me?” he said, placing a kiss on her nose.

“B-but I just got this place clean.” She tried to smile, but it was shaky and her heart felt as if it would burst. Love was wonderful… but it really hurt.

Luc kissed the tracks of her tears until he found her salty lips. “You’re coming home, with me, where you belong.”

With him, where she belonged.

She nodded, unwilling to break the seal of their lips.

She ran her hands across his shoulders, wrapped her arms around his neck, and sunk her fingers into his hair, something she never thought she’d do again. It felt right, like her hands belonged at the back of his head, and her body fit against his. Weeks of tension drained from her muscles as she pressed against him.

“Clara?” he said, his warm breath fanning her cheek.

“Hmm?”

“Maybe you’d consider, in the not too distant future, adding a hyphen?”

“A hyphen?” She pulled back to look into his face.

“Yeah. Between Bean and Bisquet.”

Clara giggled. No…Clara tittered. Tittered and nodded as only an in-love silly cow could. She’d probably have cried from sheer happiness but she was dehydrated, completely wrung out. “Even though I’m unemployed and so useless I can’t even make toast?” she asked. “I’ll have to be a kept woman until I write my book.”

“I’ll keep you, my love,” he said, showering her with kisses. “I’ll keep you forever.” He slid his hands under her bottom and lifted her onto the counter so she was face to face with him. “Besides, you’ll need lots of free time to go to hockey games.”

“But I never want to go without you.”

“You’ll just have to.”

“But why?”

“Somebody has to take our kids to practice.” He kissed her again, but this time there was nothing soft or gentle about it. It was hungry, full of passion, of love, and she opened her mouth to welcome him.

“Before I take you to bed and love you until I’m physically unable, are there any other secrets?”

She looked at him with wide-eyes and slid off the counter. “Um, maybe just one,” she confessed, dropping her chin and looking at him through her lashes. Clara turned her back and let the robe drop to the floor, revealing the worn yellow-and-black trimmed hockey jersey, the name Bisquet emblazoned across the back. She looked back over her shoulder. “Seems I’m a liar and a thief.”

His voice dropped an octave. “Is that all you’re wearing?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

Luc’s luscious mouth parted into a sexy, wolfish grin. “Game on.”





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Buckets of gratitude to my critique partner, Red Garnier, whose friendship I treasure beyond words. Thanks also to Thomma Lyn Grindstaff who has the spirit of a saint and the eyes of an eagle. To my beta readers Gwen Hayes and Shana Baptista – thanks so much for your feedback and enthusiasm.

A writer’s life is a solitary one and if not for the fabulous women of the Toronto chapter of the RWA, whose generosity, guidance and encouragement are legendary, I may have given up long ago. Big boisterous shout outs to my Collingwood gals—Christine D’Abo, Cynthia Sax, J.K. Coi, Amy Ruttan, and Maureen McGowan—who know exactly how much red wine to pour for peak creativity. Thanks for holding my hand through the many ups and downs and most of all, for the laughter. So much laughter…



The hockey insights come from T.J. McCann, via his editor-wife Laurie Rauch, without whom I would have never understood, or accepted, the truculence. Thank you for letting me into your head.

And finally thanks to Frank Bruni, author of Born Round, who unknowingly helped me understand the job of a food critic. Any injustices I did to the profession are mine alone.